Talking About Government, Summary of Findings

Talking About Government, Summary of Findings

May 6, 2010
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Public Works began this far-reaching effort with groundbreaking analysis and thorough, multifaceted research that examined Americans' attitudes toward the public sector. This research, which was originally conducted in 2004–2005 by the FrameWorks Institute and re–tested in 2008–2009 by the Topos Partnership, was designed to uncover the dominant frames or stereotypes to which Americans default when they think about government and how those frames affect public choices. Ultimately, we wanted to know how to best reframe the concept of government in order to evoke a different way of thinking, one that advances collective understanding of – and support for – public sector solutions to society's challenges

Top Facts:
 
  • Although negative views of government are dominant, these views are not as entrenched as many believe. The public is open to–in fact hungry for–a more mission-driven, "common good" sense of the public sector and its role.
  • Three key ideas are missing from the dominant public understanding of government:
  • Mission and Purpose: Our research revealed that public discourse about government is missing a clear articulation of the unique mission of government, of why it exists and what differentiates it.
  • Systems and Structures of Government: When people are caught in an image of government as a large and wasteful bureaucracy, it is difficult to grasp the many concrete and essential activities of government. The systems and structures that make up our government – from our court systems and the post office to the services that support families – are obscured. 
  • Civic Thinking: The dominance of a “consumerist” mindset towards government has undermined the kind of “civic-thinking” that we need to underpin an appreciation of the role we all have in a democracy. It is civic thinking that promotes the important perception that government is “us.”
  • The research reveals that focusing on enduring public values, talking about the systems and structures of government, and evoking “civic” thinking are productive and powerful ways to move Americans toward this more receptive and supportive view of government's role in society.